Ushering in a new era of renewable energy in the United States — as well as debates over how best to balance its environmental benefits and impacts — the Biden administration is set to auction on Tuesday the rights of private companies to build wind turbines in the off the California coast.
Similar lease sales for offshore oil drilling occurred in federal waters off Southern California in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s before moratoria and marine sanctuaries blocked further drilling. Tuesday’s event will mark the first time in history that ocean areas off the US West Coast have been auctioned off to build wind farms.
The two affected areas are each about 20 miles from Eureka, Humboldt County, and Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County, extending about 35 miles offshore. They total around 373,000 acres – a footprint larger than the city of Los Angeles.
In total, they are expected to accommodate around 300 to 450 turbines with the potential to generate 4,500 megawatts of electricity, according to the Interior Ministry. That’s enough to power 1.5 million California homes.
“For years we have extracted a finite resource – oil – with all kinds of impacts and burning it, and displacing it with tankers and oil spills,” said Gary Griggs, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences. and planets at UC Santa Cruz.
“We now have something that is renewable, clean and sustainable. He will always be there. It’s a huge change, in my opinion. What we do in California reverberates across the country.
Unlike most offshore wind farms in Europe and other parts of the world, the wind turbines will be floating rather than buried in the seabed. The area where they will be built is so far offshore from the Pacific Ocean that the water is over 1,000 feet deep. The towers will be obscured from the beach by fog, weather and the curvature of the Earth, supporters say.
“They won’t be visible most of the time, and if they are, they’ll be very small from a distance, like toothpicks,” said Adam Stern, executive director of Offshore Wind California, an industry group based in California. Menlo Park.
A total of 43 companies were allowed to bid for the leases. A similar wind lease sale in February off the coasts of New York and New Jersey raised $4.3 billion.
Major challenges remain. Successful bidders will still need to obtain permits and approvals from the Coast Commission, Coast Guard and other agencies, which Stern said could take four to five years. Construction after that will take around two to three years, with the first power supply around 2030.
Environmental groups have generally supported offshore wind power, but say they are waiting for detailed environmental studies to be released on each project to reduce any impact on whales, seabirds or other wildlife.
“This is good news in many ways,” said Irene Gutierrez, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “Offshore wind is a key part of the energy mix we need to fight climate change. But we need to make sure it is developed responsibly.
There are already 215 offshore wind farms in operation around the world. Most are found in China, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. 48 others are under construction.
The turbines can be 600 feet tall, with massive blades. The electricity they generate is purchased onshore by submarine power cables and connected to the power grid in coastal areas.
Tuesday’s lease sale will take place in Washington DC at the Department of the Interior’s Office of Ocean Energy Management. It comes after at least seven years of debate, study and discussion by private companies, federal and state agencies, environmental groups and fishing interests.
President Biden, along with Governor Gavin Newsom and the two US Senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, support the construction of offshore wind farms off the California coast.
Newsom said offshore wind is a key part of California reaching its goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. California’s goal for offshore wind power is to reach 5,000 megawatts by 2030, or about 10% of statewide peak summer demand. .
“Offshore wind development is a critical part of California’s clean energy future,” Feinstein and Padilla said in a joint statement in October when the lease sale date was first announced. times,” and if designed with the needs of local communities in mind, it can cope with climate change while minimizing damage to our natural resources. These lease assignments are a major step in our energy transition .
Six years ago, America’s first wind farm, a small one generating just 30 megawatts, opened off Block Island, Rhode Island. Another wind farm is planned off Cape Cod. Several states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia, have already set targets for offshore wind energy.
Unions have been strong supporters.
“There are going to be tens of thousands of construction jobs on the West Coast, from supply chain to manufacturing,” said Jeff Hunerlach, district representative for Engineering Local No. 3. operating in Eureka. “These are great union jobs with pensions, medical benefits and apprenticeships.”
Meanwhile, fishing groups have worried about whether ocean turbines will reduce the areas available for commercial fishing. They worry about the cables that will anchor the turbines to the ocean floor.
“We are basically banned from the areas where they are,” said Glen Spain, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations in San Francisco. “Cables could tangle our equipment. We were more or less ignored. They must be constructed in a manner favorable to fishing.
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